The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has implemented a regulation limiting employees’ exposure to silica. The rule went into effect in October 2017 for the construction industry and was expanded to include most employers in June 2018.
The Danger of Silica
Workers in several industries are routinely exposed to crystalline silica, a mineral found in natural and artificial stone and sand. Cutting, grinding, or drilling those materials or handling industrial sand can cause employees to inhale silica dust particles. Long-term exposure can lead to silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease, as well as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease.
Under the new rule, the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. An action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air requires medical surveillance and industrial hygiene or biological monitoring.
Employers are required to monitor the exposure of any workers who might be exposed to 25 micrograms or more per cubic meter of air of respirable crystalline silica in eight hours. They can do this by monitoring air quality or by measuring the exposure of employees on each shift in each type of job and work area through representative sampling.
If initial monitoring reveals silica levels below the action level, the employees no longer need to be monitored. The employer must repeat monitoring within six months if the silica level is between 25 and 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, and within three months if it is above 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Employees must be reassessed if workplace conditions or procedures change, and workers must be promptly notified of test results.
Employers can use water saws to limit the amount of silica dust in the air and ventilation to remove dust from work areas. Respirators have been found to be less effective and are only recommended if other practices are unable to keep silica levels low enough to meet OSHA’s requirements.
Companies are required to inform workers about the risks of exposure to silica and measures the business is taking to limit exposure. Employers must post signs warning workers of the presence and dangers of silica and create written exposure control plans.
Take Silica Seriously
OSHA takes the risk of silica seriously, and employers should too. The agency can conduct inspections, issue citations, and levy fines to enforce compliance with its regulations. In the first six months after the silica rule went into effect for the construction industry, OSHA found dozens of serious violations related to silica exposure and other workplace hazards.
If your workers may be exposed to silica on the job, you have a responsibility to protect them.
1st Aid Supplies offers workplace safety signs to inform employees of potential hazards and respirators that can be used if other measures are unable to adequately protect workers from silica. Order supplies today to keep your employees safe.